The effects of social group interventions for depression: Systematic review

J Affect Disord. 2021 Feb 15;281:67-81. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2020.11.125. Epub 2020 Dec 2.


Background: There is a growing prevalence of prolonged antidepressant use globally. Social group interventions may be an effective way to manage mild to moderate depression, especially with patients seeking to discontinue antidepressant use. This systematic review evaluates studies that used social group interventions to manage depression.

Methods: Studies published up to June 2019 in nine bibliographic databases were identified using search terms related to depression, social interventions, and social participation. Formal therapies for depression (cognitive behaviour therapy, music therapy) were excluded as they have been reviewed elsewhere.

Results: 24 studies met inclusion criteria; 14 RCTs, 6 non-randomised controlled trials and 4 pre-post evaluations. In total, 28 social group programs were evaluated, 10 arts-based groups, 13 exercise groups and 5 others. Programs ranged in 'dose' from 5 to 150 hours (M = 31 hours) across 4 to 75 weeks (M = 15 weeks) and produced effect sizes on depression in the small to very large range (Hedge's g = .18 to 3.19, M = 1.14). A regression analysis revealed no participant variables, study variables or intervention variables were related to effect size on depression.

Limitations: Risks of bias were found, primarily in the non-randomised studies, which means the findings must be regarded as preliminary until replicated.

Conclusion: These findings indicate that social group interventions are an effective way to manage mild to moderate depression symptoms in a variety of populations. This approach may also help to prevent relapse among patients tapering off antidepressant medication.

Keywords: Community referral; Depression; Social group interventions; Social prescribing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy*
  • Depression*
  • Humans


  • Antidepressive Agents